West Cork artist turning his hand to many talents

Pottery is in ceramic artist Jim Turner’s blood. The West Cork-based artist, who is
celebrating his 70th birthday this year, is showing a retrospective exhibition of his work in his artist wife’s gallery, Etain Hickey Collections in Clonakilty until October 25.

Turner, who is English, has been moulding clay all his life. His father was a potter. Among Turner’s early memories are playing with clay in his father’s studio. The first piece of

pottery that Turner made was an owl when he was just seven years of age. Over a long career, including an interesting residency in China, Turner has combined commercial work with his own artistic vision making sculptural pieces.

Originally, Turner wanted to become an architect and studied at Kingston University London. But he dropped out and went to Camberwell College where he studied ceramic sculpture and design.

After graduating, he took over the running of his father’s pottery for a couple of years before moving on to work as a potter in Alderney in the Channel Islands.

There, he met his Dublin-born wife who worked as an artist in Alderney. The couple also worked at their craft in Dartington Hall Trust in Cornwall.

They moved to West Cork on a whim. “We were on holidays in Dublin and borrowed a Beetle car. We looked at a map and went to West Cork.

"We thought Ballydehob was the place to be. When we came back a year later, looking for a place to buy, prices had spiralled upwards because it was around 1977, the year a lot of Dutch people moved to West Cork.”

In 1980, the couple bought and renovated an old ruin of a farmhouse and built a studio workshop in Rossmore, near Clonakilty.

They still live in Rossmore, having reared two daughters there. Working together is something they manage to “survive”.

“You have to have a lot of tolerance in that situation. I make totally different work to Etain. But we spark off one another.”

When the couple started working in West Cork, they had to find a way of making a living.

“We made chimney pots and we made tableware pottery. We did that for 20 years, supplying Blarney Woollen Mills and the Kilkenny shop. We were a wholesale business.”

That business lasted until the end of the 1990s. All the time, the couple, members of the Cork Potters’ Society, made their own artistic work.

Seven years ago, Turner was invited to do a residency in Jinghzen in China, the centre of porcelain where Ming pottery is made.

“I made some work in porcelain while I was there.” Following the residency and a workshop in Australia, Turner created and erected a tall ceramic sculpture at the Millcove Gallery’s sculpture gardens in West Cork in 2012. It’s called Zenghdai, which is the Chinese for ‘create more land’.’

“The Chinese have a funny way of describing skyscrapers. They look on it as a way of making more land. When I was in China, I had to give a lecture so I showed images of Sheep’s Head.

“The Chinese audience wanted to know where it was. They couldn’t believe there was nobody there.”

With the illustrator and print maker, Brian Lalor, Turner made a themed body of work called the Fertile Crescent which was exhibited at Schull’s Blue House Gallery.

It was in response to the unfolding tragedy in Syria and Iraq and the destruction of sites of cultural importance. One of these pieces is a 14ft-high obelisk illustrated with Syrian sayings.

“Mesopotamia is the cradle of civilisation so it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see cultural sites there being destroyed.

“But I don’t think there would be a huge number of Syrians concerned about this as they’re more concerned with just surviving.”

Turner isn’t particularly political. “But I’ve responded to some of the tragedies going on around the world,” says this artist who, while firmly rooted in West Cork, has a window to the world.

Jim Turner’s exhibition runs at Etain Hickey Collections in Clonakilty, Co Cork, until October 25.


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